Today’s college graduates are facing the new reality brought on by record-setting tough times. The world they graduated into is extremely different from what it was when they entered college with the expectation that their degree was all they needed to open doors to their dream careers.

I worked with a young man who I coached to treat his job search like a job.  That meant devoting eight hours every weekday to researching and applying for jobs, as well as practicing and preparing for any interviews that he was able to secure.  Every day he went into his “office” and worked as though he was getting paid to look for a job.  Low and behold – he landed his first jobs as a Customer Account Representative in the financial industry in just three months.  Was that his dream job?  Maybe not.  But he got his foot in the door of an extremely respectable company – which will allow him to start building a solid career foundation.

Preparing for the current job market means unlearning the ways of the college student and understanding the new workforce realities and how they can acheive their dreams by fitting in.  Here are some assumptions or LIES college students need to unlearn as they launch into the career phase of their lives.

The Lie: The hard work is behind me.  I proved myself in college.   My degree tells the entire story.

The Truth: This LIE points to the need for an attitude adjustment by many new college grads.  The real work is just beginning once you graduate.  Here’s what you can expect in this new phase of your young life.

  • Your learning curve will be very steep in the early years of your work life.  You’ll learn the practical side of doing what you may understand theoretically.  There are miles between theory and practice.
  • A college degree lays the foundation on which you’ll build for the rest of your life.  It’s not an end in and of itself.
  • The demands of the workplace are much more challenging, in a more sustained way than college.  College is four to six to eight years, depending on your degree. You’ll work for many more years than you ever invested in getting your degree.  Your real education begins once you are employed and begin to find your place in an organization.
  • Some behaviors that may have been acceptable in the classroom may not be tolerated when interviewing or at work.  For example, if you came to class late, it may or may not have any bearing on how the professor judges your performance.  In an interview or at work, it will.  Once you get the job, tardiness may delay recommendations for special projects, or show up in your performance appraisal, which is linked to opportunities for raises, bonuses and good references.
  • If you land that “foot in the door” job – it’s critical to perform well and maintain a good attitude even if you feel the job is beneath you.   In the workplace, undesirable behavior tarnishes your reputation and plays a large part in decisions effecting how quickly you move up the ladder, how well you are paid and are rewarded.

The Lie: My part-time or summer jobs, my volunteer experience or extra-curricular activities have little applicability in the real world.

The Truth: It’s amazing how frequently people forget to talk about such experiences.  There was an article in the Harvard Business Review, a number of years ago, that talked about how valuable and relevant volunteer work is.  Summer jobs, community activities, athletics, etc. are important and help shape your ability to work on teams, lead others, manage projects and make effective presentations.

  • Ask yourself, “What skills did I use and learn in this summer job working in the ice cream parlor?” for example.  You may have learned a great deal about customer service, health standards in the restaurant industry or the basics of bookkeeping if you counted the receipts, maintained the ledger, and prepared the deposit.  If you were responsible for opening or closing the store, or training new hires, these skills count.  Talk them up.
  • Inventory your experience and skills.  Look at every job you’ve had, and each volunteer activity – community, educational, religious.  Examine your experience with athletics, travel, mentoring others, etc.  Note what skills you used and learned.  Find a way to capture them in your resume or mention them in your cover letter, showing their relationship to how they prepared you for the position at hand.

The Lie: Job search websites are a good enough tool for me to use exclusively.

The Truth: Many times, jobs posted on job search or local newspaper websites are only there for the company to meet legal EEO requirements.  More than ever, people get hired because of a personal connection.  Learning how to network and develop relationships is critical for new graduates.

  • Find associations and organizations that cater to the professionals in the field you are looking to enter.  Regularly check out their websites for networking events or sign up to receive their e-newsletter.  This is also a great way to prepare yourself to speak intelligently at any events you attend.
  • Instead of going to networking events with a stack of resumes in your hand, make your goal to obtain business cards and get permission to follow up with those you meet or someone in their company for an informational interview.
  • Look to your parents, their friends and family for contacts and connections that will open doors to informational interviews.  That face-to-face meeting is a great way to practice talking to decision makers and an opportunity for you to make an impression that could set you apart from other job candidates when an opening comes about.
  • One Day One Job is a interesting website that looks at the job search from a young person’s perspective.  It’s irreverent but informative.  It was started by a frustrated 2006 Cornell graduate and the site profiles a different company every day and post job openings in those companies.

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